ad info

Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  





Bush signs order opening 'faith-based' charity office for business

Rescues continue 4 days after devastating India earthquake

DaimlerChrysler employees join rapidly swelling ranks of laid-off U.S. workers

Disney's is a goner


4:30pm ET, 4/16









CNN Websites
Networks image

Inside Politics

McCain-Feingold Facing More Threats in the Senate; Bush Stumps for Tax Cuts

Aired March 26, 2001 - 5:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Snapshots from the road: Why is the president so eager to get outside the Beltway? Snapshots from the Senate: the behind-the-scenes maneuvering before big campaign finance reform votes. Plus: nearly four decades after Dallas, new support for the second shooter theory.



SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: If you ask me would I pledge not to run for president in 2004, I would tell you.


ANNOUNCER: Senator Joe Biden answers the 2004 question.

Now Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Judy this week.

Well, get out your flak jackets. The second and final week of Senate debate on campaign finance reform is under way here in Washington, D.C., and the biggest threats to the McCain-Feingold bill, as it's known, are being unleashed. GOP Senator Chuck Hagel's alternative measure is expected to be introduced this evening.

And as our Jonathan Karl reports, a confrontation over hard money is brewing.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As John McCain, Russ Feingold, and their closest allies huddled for a strategy meeting Monday, Republican Fred Thompson made a pitch for something that threatens to destroy the fragile McCain-Feingold coalition: an increase in the so-called "hard money" contributions given to candidates.

It was in reaction to the Watergate scandal that Congress set the current limit of $1,000 for a primary, and $1,000 for a general election in 1974. If that $1,000 limit had kept pace with inflation, it would currently stand at $3,565.92, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the rise in the cost of campaigns has dramatically outpaced inflation. The average cost of a Senate campaign in 1974 was $423,000. Last year, it was more than 13 times that, at $5.6 million.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: We're sailing into the deeper, more troubled waters tomorrow. Everybody knew that it was minor league warm-up time last week. The issues that we took last week were interesting, but none were the big issues, not all the heart of the real debate.

KARL: The real debate, and the real challenge for McCain- Feingold, comes on Tuesday with the first in a series of expected votes on raising the hard money limit. While McCain doesn't mind increasing the limit, many long-time supporters of McCain-Feingold do.

SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE (D), MINNESOTA: Right now, all I want just to say this is a mistake. To have more big money dominating American politics is not reform. And I'm going to keep speaking out against it and debating against it and fighting with all my might.

KARL: And the League of Women Voters will join with 91-year-old activist Granny D and several other supporters of McCain-Feingold at a press conference Tuesday, announcing their opposition to an increase in hard money limits. But Senator Thompson, perhaps McCain's most important Republican ally, plans to push for a vote on tripling the hard money limit, putting him directly in opposition to most of the McCain-Feingold coalition for the first time since the Senate started debating campaign finance reform last week.

(on camera): And, Frank, as you mentioned, John McCain's old friend Chuck Hagel will introduce tonight his legislation, his alternative to the McCain-Feingold bill, which if you remember, would simply limit soft money rather than ban it -- limit it to $60,000 a year.

Hagel's bill was tested by a Republican whip check looking at how many Republicans would support it. Only 42 Republicans lining up in support of Hagel's amendment, which would mean he would need more than eight Democrats to sign on for it to pass, something at this point which is considered highly unlikely -- Frank.

SESNO: Jonathan, let's focus, too, on what's happening today -- tonight, as a matter of fact. One of these many votes coming up, this one to amend the constitution, to help with this whole discussion of free speech and more. What's this all about?

KARL: Well, this is all about that Buckley v. Valeo that said, essentially, by the Supreme Court that said, essentially, you cannot limit -- impose involuntary limits on campaign spending because campaign spending is, in a sense, free speech.

So this is an amendment by Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina that would essentially amend the first amendment to say that no, campaign spending should not be considered free speech. Or, at the very least, limits on campaign spending should be considered an exception to the first amendment. This, Frank, not surprisingly, is something that will not pass. It's something that Fritz Hollings has tried to bring up year after year after year, and it has always failed.

SESNO: Jonathan, take a giant step back for us. Let's refer to some of the discussion we heard over the weekend from John McCain, from Russ Feingold. They were on some of the weekend talk shows expressing guarded optimism, really, for this exercise.

You live up there on Capitol Hill. How is it looking?

KARL: Extremely guarded optimism, Frank. There's no question they had a good week last week, but as you heard Senator Hagel, who is. of course, on the other side of McCain on this, say that last week was the easy stuff. This is the troubled waters. McCain-Feingold have some very serious obstacles that -- one of the biggest one was this whole question of whether or not Democrats really support this when you get down to the line.

Because if we're looking at a compromise that limits soft money yet has an increase in hard money, that is exactly -- that's a poisonous combination to Democrats that could potentially put them at great disadvantage going into the next election. Several Democrats are very worried about that.

Also, Frank, you know, there's this question -- to use to jargon up here, of a filibuster. That is a tactic that Republicans have not ruled out, essentially talking this bill to death. Using Senate rules to make sure that it never comes up for a debate. Senator Phil Gramm is one who is saying that he has in no way ruled out the possibility of using that technique to kill campaign finance reform before it could even come up for a vote.

SESNO: Jon, let's come back to this issue of hard money for a moment. I'd like you to take us into the logic of Democrats who oppose raising the so-called amount -- this amount of so-called hard money from 1,000 to 3,000 in Hagel's bill. If tuition costs have gone up, if the cost of a car has gone up, if the cost of a house has gone up, why shouldn't the amount that someone can pitch to a political campaign?

KARL: Well, part of this is simply a calculus of political power, Frank. You have to understand that Republicans have a vast advantage in raising hard money. Republicans simply do a better job. For about every two dollars in hard money that Democrats raise, Republicans raise three dollars. So if you increase that limit, you could potentially vastly increase the Republican advantage, and that's something that the Democrats are very worried about. They know that they face a disadvantage already. You raise that limit, and you give Republicans potentially a bigger advantage.

Now, as for the merits of the argument, Russ Feingold says, look, when the Senate imposed that $1,000 limit back in 1974, they weren't saying that this is somehow set in stone, that $1,000 in 1974 dollars is right. They set a limit, and they chose back then not to index it for inflation. So the whole question of keeping pace with inflation is something that he's not interested in. Russ Feingold, one of those Democrats who would like to see no increase at all in the hard money limit.

SESNO: Jon Karl, Capitol Hill. Thanks.

Now, for more on the big debate over big money, be sure to be with "CNN TONIGHT." Senator John McCain will be a guest on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." That's at 8:00 eastern time.

In the Senate debate over tax cuts now: Democrat Joe Lieberman today unveiled his alternative to the president's plan. The former vice- presidential candidate proposes every taxpayer should get a $300 rebate this year from the Federal budget surplus. Many Democrats and Republicans now agree that tax cuts should be front-loaded in some fashion to help stimulate the economy, sooner rather than later. But Lieberman breaks with both Mr. Bush and his fellow Democrats by proposing that long-term tax cuts should, for now, target businesses, as well as individuals, as part of a broader prosperity plan.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: The Bush plan is a tax plan, not a prosperity plan. You might even say it's an "anti- prosperity" plan because it will waste the wealth our nation has earned over the last eight years and send us back down the road to debt, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment.

SESNO: President Bush is on the road again, by the way, to sell his $1.6 trillion tax cut plan to the American people directly. His first stop: Kansas City, where he told workers who assemble and box greeting cards that small businesses like theirs would benefit from tax relief. During a tour of a local restaurant, Mr. Bush made the case again that action is needed now to spur the economy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm concerned about our economy. I'm confident, however, if we do the right things, we can have economic growth, the likes of which we have had in the past. We'll watch the numbers carefully. The numbers will speak the truth. The last quarter of last year was a very slow growth quarter, and we'll see how it is in the first quarter of this year.

SESNO: Now, Mr. Bush has two events in Billings, Montana, this evening. As our senior White House correspondent John King explains, the president has become a road warrior of sorts a lot earlier in his term than his predecessor.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another day, another city, for a president who prefers to make his case away from Washington. Kansas City, Missouri, and Billings, Montana, were Monday's stops, his 25th and 26th cities in just 66 days in office.

BUSH: What do I do? I am the president of the United States.


KING: The early days of the Clinton administration were chaotic. Controversies like the battle over gays in the military overshadowed efforts to keep campaign promises. And Mr. Clinton spent most of his early weeks in Washington. He had visited just 11 states by this date back in 1993.

Mr. Bush has visited nearly twice as many states. Montana is number 20, and Michigan will join the list on Tuesday.

CHARLES COOK, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": I think probably President Clinton would have liked to have traveled a lot in early '93 and reconnect with the people, but the fact is the administration was so disorganized and they were so unfused that he didn't even have the luxury of being able to go out and travel.

KING: One Bush goal is to generate public pressure on specific lawmakers.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's good to see you, Congresswoman Karen McCarthy, thank you for your hospitality, Karen. And Congressman Dennis Moore, I've had a chance to visit with Dennis in the past, and I appreciate him at least giving me a chance to make my case.

KING: The targets in Maine on Friday were the state's two moderate Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, key swing votes in the tax cut debate and openly skeptical of the president's plan.

BUSH: Olympia and Susan are smart, capable women who aren't afraid to speak their mind even to the president of the United States.

KING: But this is more than a state-by-state hunt for votes.

COOK: I would be surprised if the president's travel would affect even one single vote on the tax cut. But even having said that, I would still do it if I were him, because it's just very important for presidents to be seen as outside of Washington, outside of the White House, interacting with people, accessible.

KING: And aides say Mr. Bush will keep traveling, especially as the House and Senate debate the details of tax cuts.


KING: The president's top spokesman went so far today as to use the word "downturn" to describe the economy. Now, Mr. Bush wouldn't say whether he agreed with that or not, but he said that it was clear that the economy had slowed, and quote, "We better do something about it" -- Frank.

SESNO: Now, John, Republicans were plenty critical of Bill Clinton when he was out traveling around the country, raising a whole host of issue, among them cost. What's good for the goose good for the gander here? How does the White House respond?

KING: Well, this is very expensive of course, and to be fair, the Republicans complain most of all when Mr. Clinton took so many international trips in his second term, those the most expensive, especially because Mr. Clinton was known for taking a very large delegation with him. But certainly, some Republicans were critical of President Clinton even when he did travel around the country.

No, not a peep of criticism of this president. The White House and Republicans in Congress draw this distinction. This is a first- term president, he won a contested election, he needs to get out there and make his case, but it is interesting, the Republicans very quiet now.

SESNO: And John, another place to invoke the name of Ronald Reagan, that is to say going over the heads of the Congress, a very divided Congress, as we have talked about here many times, and directly to the American people?

KING: Directly to the American people. This administration has closely studied the first 100 days of the Reagan administration, the first 100 days of the first Bush administration, as well as those chaotic first 100 days of the Clinton administration. They believe getting the president out there making the case to the American people, especially given the contested election that we went through just a few months back, is very important.

There'll be a lot of details debated here in the weeks, campaign finance, the tax cut proposal. Mr. Bush is not going to get a tax cut plan that looks exactly like the one he proposed, and the White House knows that. They believe the best way, though, to keep him standing up for when he has to make that deal, weeks and months down the road, is to keep him out on the road.

SESNO: John, let's go to dollars and cents here for just a moment, specifically, dollars. The figure of $60 billion is being kicked around for this quick infusion of cash back to taxpayers, and separating that out potentially from the overall tax package. Is the administration concerned about that?

KING: The administration likes the $60 billion figure, and it has worked privately behind the scene with key members of the Senate, key Republicans of the Senate, to get to that number. But we will hear from the Treasury secretary publicly tomorrow here in Washington that the administration views it as a giant mistake to separate the two.

Now, from an economic standpoint, Mr. O'Neill, the secretary of the Treasury, will make the case that a one-time infusion of $60 billion would not really provide any stimulus, that you have to have the entire tax cut package, and again, he will make the case for the 10 years -- now 11 years -- $1.6 trillion Bush plan.

But let's be honest, there's also a political calculus. The Republicans, especially the White House, worry that if Democrats get to vote for a $60 billion tax cut this year, it will be much harder to get those swing Democratic votes -- the president's in Montana today with one -- Senator Max Baucus, ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. The White House believes if you give Democrats a chance to vote $60 billion in short-term tax cuts, much tougher to get their votes for the bigger, $1.6 trillion package.

SESNO: John King at the White House. And joining us now with his reporter's notebook, Bob Novak of "The Chicago Sun-times." Bob, let's go back to something we were talking about just a little while ago, and that's the subject of John McCain and campaign finance reform, and what you're hearing about the relationship between this new president and this veteran senator.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": McCain sources, Frank, are putting out the word that the White House has said that unless Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, drops as a consultant in his re- election campaign coming up John Weaver, who is the longtime political aide to John McCain -- that unless he drops Weaver, President Bush will not go to Alabama to campaign for Sessions.

I did some reporting on it. Not a word of truth in it! As a matter of fact, Weaver is going to be on the Session's staff as a paid consultant, and President Bush will go to Alabama to campaign for Sessions. So there is somebody out there trying -- on the McCain side, trying to stir up a little bit of trouble between the president and the senators.

SESNO: Imagine that! And what is the reality check of the relationship between these two far?

NOVAK: It's not strong, but there are a lot of people -- and I think that they are mostly on the McCain side - who want to make it worse, because they're thinking of the McCain campaign for president in 2004.

SESNO: Let's think of a Senate campaign for just a minute. I see a familiar name on the horizon there.

NOVAK: Sununu. There is a great power play taking place in New Hampshire by the Republican establishment. They think Senator Bob Smith, Republican, has got no chance at all to be re-elected in 2002. They think that Jeanne Shaheen, Democratic governor, is not very popular, but she could beat Smith.

They want John Sununu, not the old John Sununu, the young, popular Congressman John Sununu to run for the Senate. This past week, he announced he's not running for governor, he may run for the Senate. A poll was leaked showing that Shaheen would beat Smith, and all of this is supposed to pre-empt Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott when he goes to New Hampshire this week to make sure he doesn't get too far in for Smith, because the establishment wants to do this to Bob Smith.

SESNO: Give a line or two to people who don't live in New Hampshire and don't know this new young John Sununu as to what he's all about.

NOVAK: Well, he's more like his mother than his father, and she was a former state chairman of the party, very nice. John -- young John is very smart. He's as smart as his father and he's as nice as his mother. He's the hottest political property in New Hampshire.

SESNO: Solidly conservative? NOVAK: Very conservative.

SESNO: David Bonior, another name.

NOVAK: David Bonior is the House majority (sic) whip. He's going to run for governor of Michigan, and some very high-level Democratic sources in the House tell me that when he announces for governor, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt may ask him to resign as whip, since he is running for governor.

That would create a whip selection between -- we have waited for a long time -- between Nancy Pelosi of California and Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Nancy Pelosi has the bucks to give out contributions, and she has the votes to become the first high-level Democratic leader of the female gender in the House.

SESNO: Let us go from veteran Democrat to veteran Republican. Your sources are telling you some interesting things on the subject of one Jesse Helms.

NOVAK: Everybody thought that Jesse in bad health would not run for re-election in 2002. He has sent a letter to his supporters saying that he and his wife Dot are in better health than they ever have thought they would be, and since they are in such good health, he's asking them, should they -- should he run again. Well, that's an answer -- that he is expecting to answer of yes, and the people who sent in 1,000 bucks in response to that letter get a thank you note. They don't get the money returned.

Since Jim Hunt, the former governor of North Carolina, very popular Democrat is not going to run, we may have six more years of Jesse Helms, which give heartburn to some and delight to others.

SESNO: That's the way politics works. And finally down -- down I-95, right onto Florida. Reapportionment.

NOVAK: This a lovely story. Those people who watch CNN will find that during the Florida recount fight, the two Democratic Congressmen who are the meanest and toughest of trying to get Al Gore in were Peter Deutsch and Robert Wexler, both of South Florida.

The Republicans control the legislature; redistricting in Congress is coming up, as it does every 10 years. They plan to put Deutsch and Wexler in the same district, so they have to run for each other. And by the way, the House speaker in Florida, Tom Feeney, who is such an ardent Bush supporter, is carving out a new district for himself.

SESNO: Don't get mad, get even.

NOVAK: That's right.

SESNO: All right. Bob Novak, as always, thanks. Great to see you.

NOVAK: Thank you. SESNO: And two U.S. fighter jets are missing in Scotland, a U.S. Army plane goes down in Germany. We'll have details coming up, but first...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Locking them up doesn't help them. It doesn't give them the treatment they need. But on the other hand, it is an immediate consequence to negative behavior.


SESNO: Ground zero in the drug war: how one judge is going beyond the usual debate over treatment versus punishment.

And later: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone? A police recording may hold the answer.






Thank you. Thank you. I would like to thank the members of the Academy. I'd also like to thank...


SESON: Maybe you saw the Oscars. Maybe you saw the movie. "Traffic" took its fair share of the spoils of the Oscars last night, including best supporting actor and best director. The film has sparked a new debate about America's drug policy here in Washington, but the terms of that debate have not changed much yet. Legalize it versus lock them up remains the dominant argument.

In an attempt to get beyond all that, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" paid a visit to Baltimore, Maryland, a city with a stubborn drug problem, to get a ground-zero perspective from drug court Judge Jamey Weitzman.





RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The searing movie "Traffic" portrays the flow of drugs into America as virtually a force of nature, as irreversible as gravity or the tides. Most Americans apparently agree. In a recent national poll, three-fourths of those surveyed said we are losing the drug war.

In fact, the picture is more complex. Government studies show the share of Americans using illegal drugs is half today of what it was 20 years ago. But since the early 1990s, the number ominously has been drifting back up, especially among young people, and that's adding new urgency to the search for solutions in cities like Baltimore, ground zero in the struggle against drugs and addiction.

Judge Jamey Weitzman runs the city's innovative drug court.

(on camera): Judge, I've seen figures that there are as many as 60,000 drug addicts in Baltimore in a city with a population of only about 700,000.

JUDGE JAMEY WEITZMAN, MARYLAND CIRCUIT COURT: It's about one out of every 10 persons.

BROWNSTEIN: How did the number get so high?

WEITZMAN: Baltimore's had an addict population for decades and decades, and unfortunately, it is generational. It's a stable drug population.

BROWNSTEIN: You've tried to do some different things here in response, one of which is this drug court here in Baltimore that you helped to establish. How does it work?

WEITZMAN: What you do is all the criminal justice people -- state, probation, treatment, the judges -- we all work together as a team to identify individuals who are committing offenses because of their drug problem, get them into this program, which provides very intensive treatment immediately upon entrance. So they don't have to wait to get into a program unlike the other 60,000 addicts.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Do you ever send the same people back to jail?

WEITZMAN: Oh, unfortunately, of course. I have to carry a big stick and the stick looks like jail. So if they're not doing well, I can just admonish them from the bench, but I also can sanction them, which is generally a short burst of jail to get their attention.

BROWNSTEIN: OK. Let's go inside.

You've worked in the public defender's office, you've been a prosecutor. Now you're a judge. Does the problem and the solution look any different from this, I guess actually that side of the bench?

WEITZMAN: Quite different. When I was a prosecutor, I was targeting major drug dealers, looking at the supply, what was happening coming into the area. But from this side of the bench, what I'm focusing most on is the demand, because every day I have a parade of families who've been devastated by the drug problem, a parade of addicts who have -- their lives have been decimated because of their usage. I see it from the ground level up.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, in Washington there are two arguments when it comes to the drug war that we have almost ritualistically forever. One of them is how to allocate the money we spend. The federal government now spends about $19 million a year trying to fight illegal drugs, and the debate always is how much for enforcement -- it now gets about two-thirds -- how much for treatment -- it now gets about one-third.

Does that balance make sense to you? Do you think it has to be changed?

WEITZMAN: What I do know is that treatment works. I see it every day in my courtroom. I don't think enough treatment dollars are being devoted to the problem.

So, yeah, I'd like to see that end of it beefed up, because the demand is what I have to live with every day. The demand is what is destroying the quality of life here in the city. That's -- that's the treatment aspect of it.

BROWNSTEIN: The other debate that never ends in Washington is over mandatory minimum sentences. Let's break this into two pieces. When it comes to possession and it comes to sale is there too much reliance on mandatory minimum sentences? Are we putting too many people in jail?

WEITZMAN: You're asking a judge. I don't know any judges who are in favor of mandatory minimums.

It takes away our discretion. Why not have a computer and just plug in the information and come out with a sentence?

Everyone comes to the courts with something different, with a different motivation, different background. After the sentence, they may have done something to try to help, to try to help the police to -- to lessen the problem, for example. None of that is factored into mandatory minimums in any meaningful way.


BROWNSTEIN: But as a society, we are obviously putting a lot more people in jail than we did 20 years ago. The crime rate is going down. Are putting some of these low-level offenders or some mid-level or even high-level offenders in jail, is that in fact helping reduce the crime rate?

WEITZMAN: Let's put it this way. The low-level offender, as you call them -- the drug user, the shoplifters supporting their habit -- are helping to destroy the quality of life for my fellow citizens here in Baltimore City. So it's not good enough just to say let's turn a blind eye to it because they're only just minor offenders. Eventually, because of their drug habit, it's more and more and more crimes are being committed. So you have to address these problems.

Locking them up doesn't help them. It doesn't give them the treatment they need. But on the other hand, it is an immediate consequence to negative behavior. So there has to be a balance. BROWNSTEIN: You know, the reverse is true, too. There are figures from the Federal Drug Control Office that about half of all heroin and cocaine in the country is consumed by former prisoners, people who have been in the criminal justice system. Do we have to figure out ways to more closely monitor that population? How big a window is that or how big a lever is that onto the drug problem?

WEITZMAN: First of all, in jail in-prison treatment makes a lot of sense, because these folks are going to come out. And then what? If we don't give them the tools in which to work, then we really -- all we've done is warehoused them for however amount of time.

There's also another innovation that's on the horizon, which is re-entry drug court, which you might know about, which is where a person who is on parole goes through a drug court like setting: very strict supervision, treatment, all of the components we have in the drug court, but they're on parole or a reduced sentence, so that these folks, as they're integrating back into the community, have a fighting chance.

BROWNSTEIN: Now, there's another innovation in Maryland where you guys have been at the forefront of trying an idea called "coerced abstinence" -- almost like a contradiction in terms -- where you take the ex -- the ex-prisoner people on probation and parole and subject them to regular drug testing once they're out. Here you call it break the cycle. Almost everybody likes this idea in theory. How has it worked out in practice?

WEITZMAN: Well, I have to give credit to our lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, for a very creative solution. Drug court can't handle everybody. So this is an excellent opportunity for us to try to deal with the problem.

BROWNSTEIN: The biggest question about that program -- and I suspect less so about the drug courts, because you have a smaller number that you deal with -- is whether the sanctions are applied when people do test positive for drugs. They've been unable to really, it seems, monitor intensively this very large population that they're trying to look at.

Is it simply too big a problem, is it too ambitious a goal, or can it be done?

WEITZMAN: I never believe in looking at the glass half empty. Yes, it's a big problem. We have lots and lots of probationers who are addicts. The legislature has to commit money so that we can increase the probation staff to properly monitor. But the idea is sound.

BROWNSTEIN: There's a great moment in the movie "Traffic," where Michael Douglas, as the Federal drug czar, is flying back from Mexico with representatives from all of the Federal law enforcement agencies. And he sits there in the plane, he's got his shirt sleeves rolled up, he says, "We're off the record. It's time to think out of the box. Everybody give the new idea that's out there." And there's dead silence. No one has anything. If you're sitting there with the Federal drug czar and they say: "Judge Weitzman, give me the new idea." What's the new idea?

WEITZMAN: I think all criminal justice problems need to be addressed holistically, where all of us, instead of having our own turf and separate territorial interests, have to work together. Because otherwise we are throwing good money out the bat.

With addicts -- the drug court, for example. The holistic approach, where not only the would get treatment and supervision, but we also address problems that contribute to their addiction, such as giving job training and placement, GED training, life skills training. All of those together work to come out with a much better product.

BROWNSTEIN: As a prosecutor and a judge, you've been doing this for 20 years now?

WEITZMAN: Too many.

BROWNSTEIN: Now many how many people you graduate from your program, you move from addiction back into the mainstream of society, there's always a longer line of addicts on the other end of the door waiting to get in.

Do you ever feel like you're on a treadmill?

WEITZMAN: When I have a drug-free baby come into my courtroom, when I have a defendant during graduation who tells me that for the first time in 10 years, his mother is letting him come home for Easter dinner -- I understand that there is a long line out there, but I know I'm making a difference.

BROWNSTEIN: Judge Weitzman, thank you for your time.

WEITZMAN: Pleasure.


SESNO: Ron Brownstein of "The L.A. Times," consultant with CNN, ground zero.

And still ahead: a new study on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and new questions about a possible second gunman.

Also, an update on the day's top stories, including the search for two missing U.S. fighter jets.


SESNO: And we'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some of the other top stories making news this hour.

Big problems today for the U. S. military in Europe. An Army plane has crashed in Germany, and two Air Force fighter jets are missing over the Scottish highlands. The F-15C fighters, each carrying one pilot, disappeared over a mountain range today in northern Scotland. A search by the Royal Air Force has ended for the day. The jets were on a routine training exercise when ground crews lost contact about 45 minutes after take-off. Now a caller reports hearing an explosion at about that time.

Also, an Army plane crashed near Nuremberg, Germany, killing both crew members there. Investigators say the reconnaissance aircraft went down in an unpopulated forest area. It was an Army RC-12, a small, twin-engine propeller plane.

A single court in southern California is handling separate school shootings today. The shooting last week at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, and the fatal attack that occurred March 5th at Santana High School. The schools are just six miles apart.

CNN's Frank Buckley is outside the court in El Cajon near San Diego -- Frank?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Frank, two teenagers in the courtroom today. First, Jason Hoffman, who is 18 years old. He was accused in the Granite Hills High School shooting from last week. Also, Charles Andy Williams, who is 15 years old. He actually went first in the courtroom today. He is accused of killing two students and wounding 13 other people at Santana High School in nearby Santee on March 5th.

Today he said nothing and did not enter a plea, as his attorneys announced plans to challenge the California law under the recently- enacted Proposition 21 that made the Williams' case a mandatory adult court case. Arguments will be heard on that April 20th, with a decision a week later.

Also in court will be Jason Hoffman, 18 years old. He is a teenager but he is not a minor, and is expected to enter a plea in the same court Williams was in earlier. Hoffman's face will not be visible to cameras in the courtroom because of its condition after five hours of surgery last week to deal with the gunshot wounds that he suffered last week in a gun battle with an on-campus police officer.

Hoffman faces one count of attempted murder and four counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Hoffman and Williams, if he is ultimately charged as an adult, could both face prison terms of life in prison if they are convicted. If Williams, in fact, goes to the juvenile court system, the worst-case scenario for him would be to serve up until the time he was 25 years old in the California Youth Authority -- Frank?

SESNO: Frank Buckley, thanks.

At Federal court in Los Angeles, meanwhile, sentencing is expected any moment in the case of white supremacist Buford Furrow. Furrow faces life in prison without parole for the shooting death of a Filipino-American mailman and the wounding of five people at a Jewish community center in 1999. Bad luck today for people booked on Comair Airlines. Pilots for the nation's second-largest regional carrier walked off the job, and it looks like the strike may be a long one. Both sides are digging in their heels over the major issues -- pay, work rules job security, and retirement benefits. President Bush says he cannot intervene unless the National Mediation Board says the strike is harming the economy.

And coming up on INSIDE POLITICS: Was this man testing the presidential waters in New Hampshire over the weekend? Details up next.


SESNO: This next story may give the term "book ahead" new meaning. We all know that it's 2001. George W. Bush just moved into the White House, but some may be looking ahead to 2004. Once more, people like Senator Joe Biden aren't waiting to take on President Bush. CNN's Bill Delaney has the details.


BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): St. Patrick's Day in Manchester, New Hampshire; a might behind the curve, giving that most of the universe celebrated the holiday a week before.

Senator Joseph Biden, though, may be just a tad ahead of the political curve, stepping out in New Hampshire of all places. Yes, it came up.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: If you asked me, would I pledge not to run for president of 2004? I would say, no, I wouldn't pledge that. Conversely, if you said, are you running? I can look at you and give you my word, I don't know whether I am going to run.

DELANEY: Running for sure, though, for reelection in Delaware in 2002; and now taking off the gloves and taking on George W. Bush.

BIDEN: There was for a while there the thought that well, maybe, maybe George the Second has a little bit of his father George the First's class, that just to sort of reach across. And the irony is that this has been the hardest edged administration I've encountered, and I've been there -- this is my seventh president.

The president's acting as though he had a mandate. And it's confusing some people, angering others - but I think the bloom is about to come off the rose here.

DELANEY: About to? Biden sees Democrats daily more in a fighting mood over Bush's tax cuts, and moves like lifting restrictions on arsenic in drinking water, proposals to cut aid to poor children.

BIDEN: I don't know anyone who is harboring any longer the notion that - uh, maybe, this is someone we can work with.

DELANEY: And from the foreign relations committee's senior Democrat, this, on the president's grip on international affairs:

BIDEN: Is he out of his depth? My concern about President Bush is not whether he has the capacity or the intellect to do the job. I think he's a very bright fellow. I'm not sure what his interest level is.

DELANEY: Which is called, among the Irish, damning, with faint praise. Though, in a still fluid political landscape, Biden also acknowledges his own party's problems.

(on camera): While it may be approaching the political lunatic fringe to already be handicapping leading Democratic presidential candidates up here, the question of the Democratic leadership is very much in the air.

Biden says Democrats are still assembling one clear compelling voice, to counter Bush. Local Democratic mover and shaker Lou D'Allesandro has a candidate.

LOU D'ALLESANDRO, NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE SENATE: Believe it or not, it may be Bill Clinton. He may rise from the ashes like the phoenix, Bill Clinton will rise again.

DELANEY: As other Democrats, though, take perhaps a few tentative steps out of his shadow.

Bill Delaney, CNN, Manchester, New Hampshire.


SESNO: And up next, political calculations of a different kind. The impact of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain. As the crisis spreads through farms and rural areas, Britain's political leadership faces a critical decision. The story after this.


SESNO: British officials today confirmed 21 new cases of foot- and-mouth disease, bringing the overall total to more than 600. CNN's Margaret Lowrie reports the continued spread of the disease has become a major political impact far beyond the farm, and soon may delay the best laid election plans of Prime Minister Tony Blair.


MARGARET LOWRIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The British general election that never was may yet be delayed. So far, the government's plan to call a general election for early May remains a talking point only because of foot-and-mouth disease. A talking point, for example, in Stockholm last Friday, when a camera caught European Commission President Romano Prodi asking Prime Minister Tony Blair when he must make the decision.

About ten days. Within the next week. A revelation for the British public, which until now had been told local elections would go ahead May 3rd. But the prime minister is too focused on foot-and- mouth crisis to even think about a national election. Legally, Mr. Blair doesn't even have to call an election until May 2002. But long before foot-and-mouth broke out here, political pundits predicted he would, to consolidate his government's strong lead in opinion polls.

His own Labour Party backs the May 3rd date. But with the disease still rapidly spreading and parts of the countryside off limits to the public, there are increasing calls from farmers and rural businesses to delay it. Leaders of both main opposition parties say this is not the time to do it.

CHARLES KENNEDY, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADER: I think it is self serving for Westminster politicians to be spending their time talking about the dates of a general election, which affects our individual livelihoods when thousands of others are losing theirs as we speak.

LOWRIE: By law, Parliament must be dissolved 17 working days before the general election could be held. That gives Mr. Blair until April 5th to do so if a national election were to be held the same day as the already announced local ones. While government advisers insist May 3rd is still the mostly likely date, media speculation here now mentions both June and next October as possibilities.

In addition, reports say, Queen Elizabeth may raise concerns during her weekly audience with the prime minister.

Margaret Lowrie, CNN, London.


SESNO: And more political news from overseas: South Korea's president today replaced almost half his cabinet, including his foreign minister. President Kim Dae-Jung made the moves in response to several factors, including signs of an economic downturn, and a slowdown in the pace of reconciliation talks with North Korea. President Kim won the Noble Peace Prize just last year for his work to improve relations with the North.

A final note on international affairs here. President Bush announced today the plans to nominate former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan. Baker served three terms of the United States Senate from Tennessee and also served as Ronald Reagan's chief of state. Baker will take over the post from former Speaker of the House Tom Foley.

And politics and Oscar are just ahead. Were jokes targeting Washington in fashion during Hollywood's big event last night? You'll see.


SESNO: So much for the rumors: Julia Roberts did not make a political statement of any kind when she accepted her Academy Award for Best Actress However, there were a few barbs aimed at the nation's capital -- how could they resist? -- during last night's awards ceremony. But they were made mostly by Host Steve Martin for laughs.


ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, here is your host of the 73rd annual Academy Awards, Mr. Steve Martin. [applause]

STEVE MARTIN, 2001 ACADEMY AWARDS HOST: Thank you, astronauts; by the way, that introduction cost the government $1 trillion.


So, there goes your tax cut.


Designers now rush to provide clothes and jewels for people who are attending the Oscars. This tuxedo was given to me by a famous designer provided I mentioned their name on the show.

And then the producer said, you can't do that. This is not the White House, you are going to have to...



SESNO: A small piece of what it was like. Even the outgoing president of the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences managed to work in a politically charged punch line when he urged members to live up to high ideals.


ROBERT REHME, PRESIDENT, ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURES, ARTS, AND SCIENCES: For some of you who have fallen a short of that mark, you'll be given another chance between now and the end of my term, I'll be considering some presidential pardons. Thank you.


SESNO: New questions about the infamous grassy knoll. Next on INSIDE POLITICS: another challenge to the findings of the Warren Commission; after this.


SESNO: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Frank Sesno, in for Judy this week. At this hour, the Senate is moving closer to the main showdowns over campaign finance reform. Later this evening, GOP Senator Chuck Hagel is expected to introduce legislation which is considered the primary challenge to the bill cosponsored by his friend, John McCain. Let's get the latest on the debate, now, from our Congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl -- Jonathan.

KARL: Well, Senator Hagel will lay down his bill later tonight, as you mentioned. The Republicans have gone through, Frank, Senator Don Nickles, who is the Republican Whip, the guy in charge of lining up Republican support for bills. And he has found out that 42 Republicans are expected to vote in favor of Hagel's bill. That means they have to get at least nine Democrats; right now, no sign they can do that.

So, Hagel's bill is expected to fail tomorrow, and this is interesting, Frank, because that of course, is the bill that is vastly preferred by the White House to the McCain-Feingold bill. President Bush has not gone so far as to endorse Senator Hagel's bill, but he has made it very clear that is the approach that he prefers.

Now, Hagel limits soft money, this unregulated money given to political parties, to $60,000 dollars a year, but he allows it at that $60,000 rate from unions and corporations. So, in that sense, Hagel does not go as far as President Bush would -- of course, President Bush has been on record supporting a ban on those soft money contributions from unions and corporations.

SESNO: Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill.

President Bush is scheduled to speak to agricultural producers in Montana shortly. It's his second stop, after Kansas City, on a two- day road trip designed to promote his tax cut plan and lobby some key senators along the way. In Missouri, Mr. Bush put the emphasis on the benefits for small businesses.


BUSH: Tax relief for small business is vitally important. It's vitally important to make sure that the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes in America. It's also vitally important as our economy slows down.

We got to remember who the major job creators are. New jobs are created by small business people and entrepreneurs. And we should not let the rhetoric of a few in Washington cloud the issue.


SESNO: CNN's Major Garrett is on the road with the president, covering Mr. Bush's trip. He joins us now from Billings, Montana.

Hello, Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Frank. And as you mentioned, the president is on the road to lobby key senators. And one of the most key senators, if you will, is with us right now. Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and also the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee that will have a lot to say about what that final Bush tax cut actually looks like.

Senator Baucus, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, the president is here to put some pressure on you, to get Montanans to lobby you to support the tax cut. Do you feel pressure?

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: No, frankly, I welcome him, and I'm glad he's here, because it highlights the bill. It -- of course, as Montanans start thinking a little more about the contents, and the more the president comes to Montana, the more we have this dialogue. I think it's great.

GARRETT: Senator, let's talk about a word you know well in Montana, that's a word called "stampede." There appears to be a stampede, even among Democrats, to cut taxes. Joe Lieberman, your party's vice presidential nominee today said there should be a $300 check sent to every American who worked last year. What do you think of that idea?

BAUCUS: Clearly, the president's tax cut should be changed so it's more front-loaded, we get more of a stimulus upfront. There are various ways to do that, with economy in top shape, particularly my state, the front-loading this with a big stimulus upfront is very helpful.

GARRETT: It's something like the Lieberman plan, something you would propose in committee and try to push through?

BAUCUS: There are several -- Lieberman has one, I have one, $60 billion each for the next three years, there are others. All around, that idea -- it's a good idea, and we'll find a way to do it.

GARRETT: The key issue for the White House is that they believe Senate Democrats are trying to lay a trap for them by talking about early stimulus, separating that from the larger issue of an across- the-board tax cut and an across-the-board cut in rates. Is it the Democratic position, and your position on the Finance Committee, that if there is a stimulus package, that's all there would be and you will not link it to an across-the-board, long-term cut in rates?

BAUCUS: My goal is bipartisan, balanced results. And frankly, the linkage is big Washington politics. It's -- we have to face that issue, but the real issue is how do we stimulate the economy right now and also have a continued substantial tax cut in a way that's fair to the country and to real Americans.

GARRETT: But are you personally committed to making sure that if there is a vote on the stimulus tax cut, it is not linked to an across-the-board cut in rates?

BAUCUS: I want to work with the president on that one. I want to see what's possible, because we want to get a solution here and not get too bogged down in politics.

GARRETT: Do you believe it's a Democratic trap to separate the two and push the tax cut, the rate cut debate into an election year next year?

BAUCUS: There are some who look at it in that vein, I don't. I'm trying to find a solution here, a compromise, something that is bipartisan and fast.

GARRETT: What are the chances of a bipartisan compromise?

BAUCUS: I think that they're fairly real, because it's 50/50 in the Senate. We have to.

GARRETT: Let's turn to our bureau chief Frank Sesno.

SESNO: Senator Baucus, just a quick question for you on a very real level. How much money and how quickly needs to go back in the pockets of Americans in order to really affect the economy that everybody is talking about as having been slowed down so much?

BAUCUS: It will help. It won't be the major stimulus, which, quote, turns this economy around, but it will help. And also, there's a psychological benefit of Congress passing perhaps a $60 billion, for each of next several years, a tax cut. That helps.

SESNO: Put $300 per taxpayer, that would be enough to materially affect the economy in your view?

BAUCUS: I think it will help. It's certainly much more than the president's original six. You know, 60 is a lot more than six. And it will help on numbers in an economy a bit. It's not going to be, you know, the sole solution, the Federal Reserve is going to have to help too -- but as a psychological benefit that Congress is doing something. It basically takes the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans to invest in the future.

SESNO: Senator Max Baucus, thanks to you very much, and to Major Garrett, who's standing there next to you, both from the great state of Montana. Appreciate seeing you both.

Former President Jimmy Carter today presided over the first public hearing held by the National Commission on Federal Election Reform. The hearing at the Carter presidential library in Atlanta featured panelists from both the public and private sectors, who discussed various ways to improve the U.S. electoral system.

Earlier on CNN, Mr. Carter said one proposal in particular caught his attention.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One reason we have such a low turnout is that we don't have a convenient time to vote.

One of the discussions today that I thought was quite interesting was why not use Veteran's Day, which is a holiday. The kids don't to have go to school. I think veterans, including myself, would be very proud to have us choose a president and U.S. senators and congressmen and other state officials on our holiday, and this would give people a chance to vote without having to leave their jobs.


SESNO: Carter and former president Gerald Ford are the honorary co-chairmen of the Election Reform Commission. Future hearings are scheduled later this year at the Reagan, Johnson, and Ford presidential libraries. The commission plans to present a report to Congress by the end of the summer.

Almost anyone who was alive in November 1963 has vivid memories of the day John F. Kennedy was shot. And even though the official report concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, many people have never been convinced. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley now on those who believe there was a second gunman, and who now have a new study to help make their case.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 37 years after it happened, news of it still makes the "A" section of the paper.

A new study says there's a 96 percent chance that Lee Harvey Oswald had an accomplice, a second gunman, a conspirator, who fired at President Kennedy's motorcade from behind a picket fence atop the Grassy Knoll. Publishing in a quarterly journal of Britain's Forensic Science Society, the author says the second gunman, not Oswald, fired the fatal shot.

This solves nothing. It's only the latest in a series of conflicting conclusions drawn from the same decades-old evidence.

We are at the point in science and technology that a year's old drop of DNA can free a wrongly convicted inmate, and the human genome has been successfully mapped. We are light years beyond JFK's dream of a man landing on the Moon.

And still no one can say with certainty how many shots can be heard on a tape recording of a Dallas police frequency. Or maybe the problem lies not in the evidence, but in ourselves, in a nation's quest to bring sanity to the irrational, to explain the inexplicable.

ANNA NELSON, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: When something as traumatic as Kennedy's assassination occurs to a society, they are looking for something beyond the simple solution, that Lee Harvey Oswald stood in a window and killed the president is just not enough. They really want a better answer, and so they seek a conspiracy.

CROWLEY: To this day, Dealey Plaza and the Grassy Knoll are magnets for the interested and the obsessed. Trinkets are sold, theories exchanged. The uncertainty has been so ingrained over the decades and the passions are such that even convincing new evidence would not convince everybody.

But history will outlive memory. Eventually, like the Lincoln assassination, JFK's death will be scrutinized by cooler, more distant eyes.

NELSON: I think the conspiracy will die down, but it will not go away. One day, people who remember the event, who were alive during the event, will be gone, and when that happens, we may take another look. But it will die down, become just another historical event.

CROWLEY: In the meantime, the history of that day remains a current event.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


SESNO: And right ahead: should the death penalty apply the everyone, including the mentally retarded? The U.S. Supreme Court will consider that question tomorrow, and we'll hear from the death row inmate whose lawyers brought the case when we return.


SESNO: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to reconsider whether executing the mentally retarded violates the protection against cruel and unusual punishment, as laid out in the United States Constitution.

The court will hear the case of a North Carolina inmate during its fall term. Tomorrow, the court will hear another death-row case involving a mentally retarded Texas inmate convicted of murder. It will consider whether his limited mental capacity should have been considered when a jury sentenced him to death.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer went to Texas' death row to meet that inmate, Johnny Penry.


JOHNNY PENRY, DEATH ROW INMATE: I never finished first grade.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If Johnny Penry could plead his own case to the justices, he'd say:

PENRY: I begged him for mercy that they would put me in a mental institution for the rest of my life. I don't think that executing me is going to solve anything.

BIERBAUER: Penry's IQ tests between 51 and 63, mild to moderate retardation. He can read and write only a little, but likes to draw. His lawyers describe him as 7-year-old in a 44-year-old's body.

BOB SMITH, PENRY'S ATTORNEY: He understands enough to be frightened. He is clearly frightened of what's going to happen if he loses the case.

PENRY: I have never hurt nobody in my whole life.

BIERBAUER: But he did. In 1979, Penry raped Pamela Carpenter and stabbed her to death with a scissors. That is not in dispute. Penry's first Supreme Court appeal in 1989 questioned whether executing the retarded is cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's opinion said: "Mental retardation is a factor that may well lessen a defendant's culpability for a capital offense." But she added, "We cannot conclude today that the Eighth Amendment precludes the execution of any mentally retarded of Penry's ability." PENRY: Sometimes it's scary.

BIERBAUER: Penry did win a new trial, but Texas law permitted a jury to answer only three questions: Was the murder committed deliberately? Was it an unreasonable response to provocation? Was Penry a continuing threat to society?

PENRY: I ain't no troublemaker.

BIERBAUER: Penry was again sentenced to die. His lawyer says the jury should have considered one more question.

SMITH: Considering all the mitigating circumstances, including the mental retardation, the child abuse, what do you think is the right sentence -- a life sentence, or death sentence? They were never asked that.

PENRY: I said, "Mama, I love you."

She said, "Shut up. I don't want to hear it." She bit my ears until it was all bloody. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Gouging my eyes. Put a cigarettes out on my face.

BIERBAUER (on camera): Last November, Johnny Penry left this facility for the 47-mile drive to Huntsville, where he came within three hours of execution.

PENRY: I have seen the warden with the walls, the one that pulls the switch on you. And I had a chat with him. I told him, I said, "You're the person that pulls the switch."

He said, "Yeah, that's me."

BIERBAUER (voice-over): The Supreme Court staid Penry's execution. It's also put a hold on the executions of two other retarded men, Ernest McCarver in North Carolina, Antonio Richardson in Missouri, and could be rethinking its first Penry ruling.

Then, only two states, Georgia and Maryland, prohibited executing the retarded. The justices said evolving standards of decency could change their view. Now 13 of the 38 states that have a death penalty consider it cruel to execute the retarded. Johnny Penry will wait on death row in Livingston, Texas, while the justices weigh whether Texas ignored their earlier instruction to consider mitigating circumstances.

PENRY: I'll be glad when they give me a life sentence and let me go on with my life.

BIERBAUER: Charles Bierbauer, CNN, Livingston, Texas.

SESNO: And another crime story: an update on the two recent school shootings in the San Diego, California, area. The suspect in Thursday's shooting at Granite Hills High School is due to appear in court at the bottom of this hour. Eighteen-year-old Jason Hoffman is accused of wounding three students and two teachers. Earlier, the suspect in the shooting at nearby Santana High School was arraigned. The judge said he'll rule on April 27th whether 15-year-old Charles Andy Williams should be tried as an adult. Williams is accused of killing two people and wounding 13 others in that shooting at Santana High on March 5th.

And after the break, we are going to talk with two elected representatives here in Washington, Jennifer Dunn and Maxine Waters, on how juveniles should be handled -- juveniles who bring weapons to schools and may shoot other kids.

Also, we're going to take a look ahead at what is coming up on "MONEYLINE" at the bottom of this hour. We'll go to Willow Bay for that -- Willow.

WILLOW BAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Frank, thank you. Coming up on "MONEYLINE," Senator Joseph Lieberman offers his idea to jump-start the economy: Give every tax-paying American a $300 rebate. We'll talk to the former vice-presidential candidate about his plan.

Plus, another up day for the Dow. Is this recent rally here to stay?

And, is NBC ready to sack the XFL?

Those stories and more, coming up on "MONEYLINE." INSIDE POLITICS returns in just a moment.


SESNO: As we reported earlier, arraignments today in those two school shootings in California, shootings that have become part of a growing debate about appropriate punishment for juveniles who commit violent -- sometimes fatal -- crimes.

Let's discuss that now with two members of the United States Congress who must grapple with this issue. We're joined by Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California; Jennifer Dunn, Republican of Washington state.

Good day to both of you. Congresswoman Dunn, I'd like to start with you. You're the co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional working group on youth violence that was born out of the tragedy at Columbine.

Has this country gone too far in prosecuting juveniles as adults, even if they commit heinous crimes?

REP. JENNIFER DUNN (R), WASHINGTON: I'm not sure about that, Frank. I just think that it's so important for us to look at what causes these crimes, and try and get a grip on these young people before it gets to that point. Our school violence working group was a bipartisan group. It was a wonderful group, co-chaired by my friend Martin Frost, of the state of Texas.

And we were able to pinpoint some very important causes. We feel very strongly that it has been proven over and over again that if one responsible, loving adult is in touch with a child, that child isn't going to go off the deep end. We think community groups have worked, like boys and girls clubs, YMCAs.

And we also think that programs like school resource officers are very important. That's the person you saw on that campus actually preventing more deaths from happening in last week's shooting, so...

SESNO: But if I may, as to when -- at what point a juvenile is treated as an adult? Presuming that that person, you know, has committed a crime, when it comes to sentencing, what is the appropriate age? Is it 17, 16, 15? How do you draw the line, and where?

DUNN: See, I just have a problem with that. I don't really understand why we're trying young people as adults. It may be the right thing to do because they are committing adult crimes, but I think there are so many things that we overlook if we're not trying to prevent these things from happening in the first place, and much of it can go on through the school.

SESNO: Congresswoman Waters, let me come to you and pose to you the question then, that some might say, which is that a harsh treatment in the penal system for these heinous crimes sends an unmistakable signal and in fact, may be responsible for this lowering crime rate we've seen.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, let me just say that Jennifer and I are not too far apart on this issue. We're very, very concerned about the violence that's going in our schools, but I don't think there are easy answers.

You don't simply just lock them up and throw the key away and start trying children as adults. We -- our hearts go out to the families and the communities where these crimes and this violence is taking place. But you know, we have got to have a team effort in the schools.

People -- everybody you talk to, when these things happen, knows something. Somebody knew that this child was being picked on, someone knew that this child was angry, someone knew that there were problems in the family. We have got to have a team effort that will staff children with all of those -- in the environment, the school environment, coming together, the teachers and the cafeteria workers and the resource officers and talking about what they're seeing and try and get some assistance so that we can move in, to identify the children who are in trouble, to help them and their families.

We simply cannot solve this problem by trying young kids as adults and locking them up for life.

SESNO: What do you say to the parents and the loved ones of victims in these horrible shootings? They may be perpetrated by a minor, but nonetheless are as permanent and horrible and fatal as if anyone else was pulling the trigger.

WATERS: It's horrible. And we have to admit that we are so sorry for what happened, and we're in deep pain about it, and we recognize their pain, and we don't try to minimize that.

We try and say to people that we have got to move in ways that will prevent it from happening again, and we would hope that they would understand that we're going to try to do everything that we can to make sure that their children have not simply died in vain. It's a horrible thing. We won't dismiss it, but we can't give up, and think that we're solving the problem by simply locking up children. They're children!

SESNO: Congresswoman Dunn, is there a deterrent value, however, to really, truly treating some of these minors, adolescents, as adults?

DUNN: Certainly, that would be partly a deterrent. But I don't think you are going to be able to say to a child, look here, this younger fellow in your school was tried as an adult for committing a crime, and therefore, you are never going to do it. It's just too simple an answer.

I've talked to a friend recently, writes for national magazine, who said that one thing children want more than anything else is their 15 minutes of fame. And so, you see television broadcasting this over and over and over again.

But I think most importantly, look at the child, look at the community. It's not going to be ever found in a government solution, although we can help. But a school resource officer, who is there, school safety officer there in the school, a uniformed policeman who is a counselor in this school, who begins to hear the rumbles at that school before they escalate into violence, that's one way of doing it.

And I'll tell you, Frank, I think one thing has been forgotten, seems to be forgotten so quickly in-between these terrible violent outbreaks in communities around school grounds, is that the young people, as Maxine said, they know what's going on there. They hear things. And it seems we forget all too quickly about reporting those.

Some schools have hotlines, anonymous hotlines. I mean, those are wonderful things that schools have put into effect. I think it really starts there, and talking about how you imprison them or penalize them, whether you have gun control or not gun control, that's all later, it's when it's too late for that kid and too late for the communities.

SESNO: Congresswoman Waters, last question to you in about the 30 seconds we have remaining. In just a little while from now, Jason Hoffman, an 18-year-old, will be arraigned. He's accused of wounding five people on Thursday. Any qualms about treating him as an adult? He's 18.

WATERS: Yes, I still do. He was still in school, and obviously he does not have the wisdom of an adult. And I think perhaps our laws at 18 may allow him to be treated as an adult, and I guess at some point, people may want to do that, but I would hope that as we focus on all of this violence and these children, that we move away from locking them up and throwing the key away, and see what we can do as a sophisticated, resourceful society to find out what is troubling our children and figure out how we, as adults, can embrace them and help to prevent this kind of thing from happening, rather than taking the easy way out of talking about locking them up.

No, it is not a deterrent. Kids don't stop and think, if I do this, am I going to do life in prison? I'm sorry, it just doesn't work that way. But we can find out what the state of things are in their homes, and whether or not they feel so picked on, so abused, that they don't know where to turn. I think we can do better in observing the problems on our campuses and with children, and help divert them from the criminal justice system.

SESNO: OK, Maxine Waters, thank you so much for your time.

WATERS: You're welcome.

SESNO: Jennifer Dunn, I appreciate the input from both of you.

And coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, a seven-footer from China is heading west to the United States. The basketball star may break new ground in professional sports, and possibly in international relations. We'll tell you how.


SESNO: U.S.-Chinese relations are getting a major boost, at least on the basketball court. The NBA is getting its first Chinese player. And the East-West union could have an impact beyond professional sports.

Lisa Rose Weaver has the story.


LISA ROSE WEAVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it hoop diplomacy, perhaps. 7'1" player Wang Zhizhi will step into the National Basketball Association, sometimes an arena for U.S.-Chinese relations. At a low point in bilateral ties, NBA broadcasts were stopped in China, but clearly times are better now.

And although the political significance of Wang's addition to the U.S. team may be considerable, the sport is foremost on his mind.

WANG ZHIZHI, BASKETBALL PLAYER: There's a huge gulf in the level of playing between the NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association, but I'm confident that if I try my best, I'll be able to make the adjustment.

WEAVER: The Dallas Mavericks picked the 23-year-old player from Beijing as 36th in the second round of the NBA draft last year, the second year in a row Wang made the NBA's list. Then, the Bayi Rockets, a team run by China's Ministry of Defense, would not allow Wang to travel overseas.

That changed when Chinese officials let Wang join the NBA, a move observers say was calculated to improve Beijing's image abroad as the leadership strives for the ultimate athletic prize, hosting the Olympic games in 2008.

But Wang the athlete does not appear ready to be overshadowed as he helped his team to victory at this recent game in Shanghai.

WANG: If I go, I insist I play first-string. I would not be happy if I had to play second-string, or back-up.

WEAVER: Winning the Chinese Basketball Association's season championship and helping the Rockets shoot to the top -- Wang seems off to a good start. Lisa Rose Weaver, CNN, Beijing.




Back to the top